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MU students win the Charlemagne Youth Prize for their media literacy game

Fakescape, a game that teaches media literacy and critical thinking to children and young adults, has won the Charlemagne Youth Prize. The project is run by students from the MU Faculty of Social Studies.

The Fakescape project is run by a team of students from the MU Faculty of Social Studies led by Tereza Kráčmarová.

The Fakescape project develops games that teach elementary and secondary school students to think critically about the information they read and share on social media every day. It all started in 2017 when Masaryk University joined a competition where the entrants had to design a project to fight extremism, terrorism and similar issues, including disinformation and fake news.

Tereza Kráčmarová, a student of political science and information studies, joined the competition team when the Department of Political Science at the Faculty of Social Studies issued a call for participants. “We did well: we got to the final round in Washington, where we presented our project and came second in the worldwide competition. This gave us a huge boost; we established a voluntary association and started doing it at a semi-professional level,” says Tereza, who chairs the association. She adds that over the last four years, the original team of six students and two lecturers has grown to over thirty.

“Our project has grown. While we started out as a group of students who barely knew each other, we are now a group of friends and a well-structured organisation that knows what it wants and how to achieve it. Our goal remains the same: to show people how to avoid being duped. We do not tell them what to read or who and what to trust but how to make sense of the information around us – because not everything you read on the internet is true,” says Tereza.

Her team has continued to release new games, including a card game, and improve their content online to captivate their target audience of elementary and secondary school students. In January 2019, Fakescape came second in the global P2P Digital Challenge competition co-sponsored by Facebook. In the same year, their project was in the top three in the under-30 category of the Gratias Tibi awards and the top five in the public sector category of the SDGs Awards. They also won the Brána k druhým award in the adult category.

In 2021, their project was nominated for the prestigious Charlemagne Youth Prize. The prize is awarded by the European Parliament and the International Charlemagne Prize Foundation in Aachen for projects that can serve as a role model for young people living in Europe and offer practical examples of Europeans living together as one community. And once again, they won.

“As for winning such a major prize, I don’t think we have fully taken it in yet. It’s an achievement we never even dreamed of. We take it as positive feedback that what we do makes sense and we do it well. If someone at the EU level thinks it’s good, it puts a huge obligation on us for the future,” says Tereza.

The team’s first game was an escape game for secondary school students called “Save the Holidays” based around a presidential campaign in 2028. Their second game, targeted at elementary school students, was on the topic of disinformation: there is an outbreak of a disease that makes you believe everything you hear and see if you contract it. And the search for a vaccine is on... The students playing the game started using terms such as “virus” and “quarantine”. “A year after we came up with the game, some of the scenarios became reality. It is a bit scary. We keep telling the students that it’s not our fault, that we really didn’t know what’s going to happen. On the other hand, covid pushed our game for secondary schoolers online so that they can play it even when the schools are closed,” notes Tereza.

The Fakescape team has recently designed an accredited course for teachers on how to actively teach their students about the media: “Gamification in teaching media literacy”. They are currently partnering with organisations creating activities for senior citizens and working on courses for this target group.

“Our card game is our first attempt to create a game for the general public although we would also like to start targeting elderly people. We would prefer to do this through a game again, rather than a lecture, and create something tailor-made for what older people need.” The association was given a freer hand for future projects and development, potentially in the area of cybersecurity, thanks to the Charlemagne Youth Prize, which comes with a cash prize of 7,500 euros (about 190,000 Czech crowns).

Despite the many successes and awards, not everyone is happy with the way Fakescape teaches media literacy. “There aren’t that many of them, but we do have our regular social media troll and every time somebody publishes an article on us, we can read a lot of unpleasant things in the comments section. When you take into account how explosive this topic is though, the negative reactions are really few and far between. Perhaps it comes down to the way we work: we don’t target specific politicians or topics that divide society,” explains Tereza.

She was taken aback by how powerful disinformation and fake news were: “They can really divide the public and cause conflicts in families. The only way to fight them is through communication – we need to talk with each other about the topic.”

When Tereza Kráčmarová first enrolled at Masaryk University, she wanted to be a journalist. The political science programme she is currently studying at the Faculty of Social Studies was originally her minor, but she eventually realised that was the way she wanted to go.

She is also enrolled in Information Studies at the Faculty of Arts and in October ran for the Student's Chamber of the MU Academic Senate. “I wanted to focus on associations and internships, which is a topic that I personally find important since I could see how far myself and the team got thanks to our association,” says Tereza about her Fakescape-related programme. Unfortunately, she lost in the elections.

Her message to other students and her colleagues is clear: “Participating in projects pays off. It’s a fantastic opportunity and you learn many practical skills that you won’t find in a classroom. Moreover, what you do in your free time as a student may become a job later. In short, if you have the time and energy, I can heartily recommend always participating and trying everything you can.”